Industrial unrest simmers at Virgin Atlantic

A ballot on industrial action by pilots at Virgin Atlantic is taking place now. The union seeking the strike mandate is the Professional Pilots Union which claims its membership includes a large majority of pilots at the airline, but it is not recognised by the company.

PPU members at Virgin number 543, which is 70% of the pilot workforce, says the union.

The British Airline Pilots Association, which is recognised by Virgin Atlantic, says the PPU takes part in “single-table bargaining”, and calls the proposed action “counter-productive”. The PPU says so-called single-table bargaining does not, in fact, include them, and its members want recognition for their association, not representation partly by Balpa.

Internal union politics, and growing pilot dissatisfaction with Balpa representation at Virgin, has led over the last few years to the formation of the PPU, which in June took a “consultative ballot” of Virgin pilots about whether they would take some form of industrial action to back their demand to be recognised as the bona fide pilot representative body at the airline.

The PPU says it got a 95.5% vote in favour of some form of industrial action, with the majority within that total voting for action up to and including stoppages.

The independently conducted ballot now being held, the results of which will be known by 18 August according to the PPU, asks for a mandate to conduct a work-to-rule.

Virgin has commented: “We value our pilot workforce enormously and have offered to have dialogue with the unrecognised union. We like to reassure customers all Virgin Atlantic flights continue to operate as normal.”

Flights are indeed unaffected at present, but if the PPU gets its mandate a work-to-rule can be highly disruptive. As the PPU points out, running a smooth schedule on time depends a great deal on pilot goodwill.

That is true at all airlines.